Once you reach an intermediate to advanced level in English, you should quit translating words into your language and begin looking up the English meaning instead.
However, you need to be careful with English dictionaries. When was the last time you read the dictionary in your own language? Probably a while ago, right? That is the problem with dictionaries, they are usually out of touch with the way we talk day-to-day and are also too complicated and confusing. Using them to look up a word that you don’t know sometimes provides a meaning that isn’t really correct or is out of context.
For example, you’re probably familiar with the word ‘call’. You can call someone on the phone, call them by their name, or call out to them in a crowded room. If you look up the word ‘call’ in the dictionary, you’ll find a long list of those uses with examples.
However, did you know we also use it a lot to make a prediction about the future? A good friend of mine correctly predicted the shocking election that put Donald Trump in the White House. The next morning, I texted him simply saying, “You called some crazy things yesterday.”
Out of context, that sentence does make much sense, and if I used a dictionary to look up the main verb, ‘call’, it probably wouldn’t help much.
Of course, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use a dictionary, you should. I simply want to point out a couple of other tools that can be very helpful alongside a dictionary.
- An online dictionary that also has user feedback. One of the best examples is Wordreference.com. Word Reference has a great dictionary and translation tool, but there are also forums where people can discuss the specific meaning of words in context, which is an extremely useful feature.
- A thesaurus provides words with a similar meaning (synonyms) to the word that you are looking up, as well as words with the opposite meaning (antonyms). These are also great tools because you simply read through other words, many of which you might already know, to help you understand the meaning, not complicated and detailed definitions. It’s also a great way to learn new words. You can often find dictionaries that include a thesaurus, which is perfect.
- My favorite way to learn what a word means is to simply ask a native speaker. Not only is it a good opportunity to converse and practice the language, but you will also learn cultural nuances that a book or definition could never provide. Don’t know any native speakers that you could ask? Jump on Linguaplex and find an instructor online, or shoot me an email and I might answer in the next post.